Vita owners, like myself, have been waiting for what seems like an eternity for a console-like FPS experience since we first laid eyes on Sony’s little system. As soon as we all saw the dual analog nubs and the processing power of the Vita, we knew it was inevitable. Unfortunately, after more than a year on the market, the system and its owners were still waiting for that game to come. I won’t sugar coat it or beat around the bush and flat out tell you: Killzone Mercenary (KZM) is that game that Vita owners have been waiting for.
Set shortly after the events of the original game, KZM puts you in the shoes of Arran Danner, a highly skilled mercenary. Being a mercenary, you have no true alliances, you go where you are paid to go and you do what you are paid to do. No questions asked. Each of the game’s nine missions plays out as a contract, or mission for either the ISA or the Helghan, depending on who is paying the bill. The thought of there just being 9 missions seems limited, and they can be all be completed in about 3.5 hours with no problem. However, this is just the tip of the KZM iceberg.
Once you complete a mission, there are 3 additional variations of those missions added to your level selection options. These variations include drastically altered objectives that fall into one of three different categories: precision, covert, and demolition. Each one requires you to approach them differently and many have specific equipment requirements which ties into the game’s unique cross-mode equipment system. Just like you have different loadouts in a multiplayer shooter like Call of Duty, you have them across each and every mode here. The more you play and earn (which we’ll discuss here shortly), the more equipment that you can purchase and add to your arsenal.
While that main story is rather short, it is well done and leaps and bounds above the quality of the other shooters that the Vita has seen thus far. Guerilla Cambridge has produced a great story that gives you a little bit of insight of the struggles of the mercenary world and that things aren’t always black and white. It is also formatted in a manner that promotes multiple plays, thanks to the diverse options offered by the unlocked missions. It’s smart and well done game design that fits perfectly in the mobile realm. The intros and cut-scenes are all brief which gets you right into the action. Some of the stages add a bit of variety to the gameplay by putting you in the gunner’s seat of an aircraft, but there are opportunities for more that weren’t taken advantage of. I would have loved to see the player given more control in some of the wingsuit sequences and perhaps be given full control of a vehicle or two. The lack of these isn’t a detriment to the game, just missed opportunities considering that there are numerous scripted scenes of the sort.
I already talked at length about the interface and control options in both my multiplayer and single player previews of the game, and that hasn’t changed in the final version. The development team really went out of the way to make this look and feel like a console shooter. There are touch screen options available but the only one that is required is the swiping motions for the melee kills. Even though there is no avoiding this one, it works a lot better than I ever hoped that it would. At least here, the motions that the game asks you to swipe make sense in correlation to the action on the screen; if an enemy melee is coming from the right, your counter measure requires you to swipe from right-to-left, which would make sense given the motion of your enemy. It’s a small detail that really makes a difference in what would otherwise be an intrusive mechanic. There are other touch options available, such as equipping your grenades or switching weapons, but you can also accomplish those tasks using the control pad. It’s all about options here and the game does alienate fans of either method.
Perhaps the best mechanic of the game, in terms of delivering an enjoyable experience, is the complete and total adoption of the mercenary / gun for hire concept. Everything action you perform, regardless of your mode of choice earns you credits (the in game currency). You get them in the campaign, multiplayer matches, and even individual contract outings as I discussed above. These funds are what you use to flush out your personal arsenal of weapons and gadgets for all the modes of the game. It is almost like being able to take the great guns that you unlock in Black Ops 2 multiplayer and replay your favorite story missions with them equipped. The result is a refreshing approach to the single player portion of the game as you can pseudo-tailor the experience to yourself. Want to just mow down the opposition in a certain level with your guns blazing? Then simply arm yourself for the job and have a blast doing so. Want to be stealthy about it? Then you can grab all silenced weapons and equipment and sneak your way through the level. Its a lot of fun to simply be given the choice in every mode of the game.
Of course, no shooter would be complete without a multiplayer component, and KZM delivers in ways that Resistance: Burning skies only dreamed about. The multiplayer modes are diverse and action packed, as are the maps that they play out on. I would have been nice to see more maps than just the six included. There are no visual or content related concessions made here to craft the portable experience; this truly feels like something I would expect from the console entries in the series. As I am sure many of you have experienced in the public beta, the netcode works really well as does the match organization. It is a quick and painless process to get into a public match and the netcode has been butter smooth for me (although the servers aren’t very populated yet).
When the Vita was revealed, Sony promised us that true, console-FPS gaming would be making its way to the portable market. Thanks to Guerrilla Cambridge, that has finally happened! The KZM experience is definitely one that every Vita owner should experience. Uncharted may have been considered the system seller for the platform before, but this is the new measuring stick for the platform. Every owner of the system should have this game in their library and this game should convince some gamers that it is time to stop ignoring Sony’s handheld. The experience has a great balance of that true-to-console feel and offering you a streamlined path to the action consistent with the most mobile experiences. If you don’t own a Vita, you now have a reason to go out and get one.